By Teresa Goins
The Oxford Dictionary contains many definitions for the small word ‘new,’ one of which is “just beginning or beginning again.” For our twenty-first century church youth, this New Year has more implications than usual. They are not just “beginning again” in a new year but a new decade! And this is the first time our 13- and 14-year-olds, for example, remember a new decade because they were toddlers when the last rolled around. For such a distinct occasion, our outlook for 2020 as church youth leaders must be a new one that comes from fervent prayer and a renewed commitment to serve them better this year than last.
The best way to start is to brainstorm, maybe in the presence of our youth groups, for new ways to occupy their time in the new year. Young people are activity-driven and, unlike many adults, enjoy anything that is new! Per Oxford, new also means “different from the previous one,” “not existing before, or just recently introduced.” Think outside the box and implement new activities that have not yet been done at your church. Here are some examples:
(1) Allow your youth to customize your church landscaping by adding Lawn Stones to the edge of your shrubs and flowers. Smooth rocks about six to eight inches in diameter can be purchased at a craft store, or you can use any type of rocks (of about the same size) already at your disposal. The kids will paint each rock (with weather-resistant paint) and add an inspirational message, such as “Praise the Lord, “Don’t Give Up!” or “Just Believe.” This will add a personal touch to the landscaping and give your youth a sense of pride when they see their rocks displayed.
(2) Take a Nature Hike. The outdoors can be the church youth leader’s best friend! Getting kids outside allows them to be loud, move around, and appreciate nature. Even if you simply walk around the block, on the sidewalk, your young people will enjoy the openness of the trip. When back at the church, have them sit on the grass in the yard for their lesson.
(3) Make a Prayer Jar that belongs only to your youth group. The size of the jar will depend upon the size of your group, and letting the youth decorate it will be a fun activity in itself. Each time your group meets, have the prayer jar available for prayer concerns. The jar will be closeable and a safe place for their prayer requests, which will have each been written on a post-it sized piece of paper, folded, and placed inside. At the end of the month (or quarter, depending upon how full the jar is), gather your youth in a circle around the jar to reflect upon their individual requests to God. Afterward, you can take the jar home with you to dispose of the papers, or take the activity one step further. If weather permits (and there is an appropriate place to do so), build a small bonfire outside, on which the youth will burn their requests, as if offering on an altar their prayers to God. Remember that, for youth, the more tangible the idea, the better. Physically experiencing an activity will make an impression that mere words and lessons cannot.
Above all, the most meaningful New Year projects for youth groups are those that are done in service to others. (1) Recruit one young person each month to Support the Custodian by returning all the hymnbooks to their holders after each Sunday morning service. (2) Make Love Baskets to deliver to the church’s elderly shut-ins, which might include lotions, candy, warm socks, and a card created by the youth. (3) Establish a Random Acts of Kindness plan, in which each young person is responsible for one act per week (or month), reporting back to the group their results.
Isaiah 43:18-19a says, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!” We recognize this scripture as God’s promise to Israel to continue to guide and protect them, the word new referring to even better blessings in the future than in the past. Like Israel, we are not always obedient, but we too can expect better blessings in the new year. When we have a new desire to serve, implement new projects, and open our hearts to God’s new plan for 2020, our young people will notice; and that will make all the difference!